The most important apps to have while in China (2023)

Everyone knows that WeChat and Alipay are essential tools for anyone visiting China, serving as vital platforms for making payments and establishing diverse connections. However, your digital toolkit for China shouldn’t stop there. There are other must-have apps that could significantly enrich your travel experience in this magnificent country.


When it comes to navigating the sprawling landscapes of China, Baidu Maps (百度地图) and Gaode Map (高德地图) reign supreme. These platforms offer reliable alternatives to Google Maps and extend beyond basic navigation. They aid in discovering scenic spots, intriguing travel destinations, and relaxing hangouts, among other things. Both apps support offline map data downloading, saving you from relying solely on Wi-Fi or mobile data, particularly useful when you’re operating on a limited travel SIM card plan.

  • Baidu Maps app screenshot showing detailed city navigation.
  • Baidu Maps app screenshot showing detailed city navigation.

For Apple users, Apple Maps provides an equally robust solution. Once in China, it connects to Gaode Map’s data, allowing English language search for destinations within the country. This feature can prove immensely helpful for non-Chinese speakers looking to navigate China seamlessly. With it, you can book taxis, private cars, and locate scenic spots, all in English.

A vital part of traveling in China involves leveraging the country’s extensive high-speed rail network. To book your train tickets in advance and bypass agent fees charged by third-party platforms, the official China railway app “12306” comes to the rescue. With English and Chinese language support, it empowers travelers to purchase train tickets conveniently. And once your booking is done, all you need is your passport – no ticket collection queues at the booth or at the station entry. Simply scan your passport and board the train.

To further ease your travel, Didi Chuxing (滴滴出行) is a must-have. It’s China’s answer to Uber, offering full English language support and accepting all international credit card payments. With competitive pricing and flexible car booking options based on your speed and passenger number requirements, it’s an indispensable travel companion in China.


Understanding the local pulse is crucial to experiencing China like a local, and that’s where Dazhong Dianping (大众点评) and Meituan (美团) come in. These apps, akin to Yelp, Openrice, Opentable, Google Reviews, and Facebook, are comprehensive guides to the best food spots, popular travel sites, economical hotels, relaxing bars or clubs, and much more. User-driven reviews and photos on these platforms provide valuable insights into local businesses and spots, helping you make informed choices.

Those seeking more unique, “off the beaten path” experiences should download Xiao Hongshu (小红书). This innovative platform blends the features of TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, fostering a community of influencers who share unique and local experiences. Through this app, you can discover under-the-radar attractions and experiences, perfect for spicing up your social media feed or simply trying something different.”

Hotels and Homestays

Securing suitable accommodations as a foreigner in China can be somewhat of a challenge. While Meituan (美团) and Dazhong Dianping (大众点评) can serve as platforms to book hotels, they may not cater to foreign passport holders, limiting their utility. The key is to lean on China-focused international travel apps that guarantee foreign guest acceptance., formerly known as Ctrip, is one such platform that I highly recommend. This Singapore-based company is exceptionally reliable and often secures competitive hotel rates within China. Having used it personally for all my hotel bookings in China, I can attest to its dependability. Offering English language support and accepting all international credit card payments, is both an app and a website that provides a seamless user experience. Hotel bookings are typically refundable (always check the specifics) and confirmations arrive instantly. The app also offers railway ticket booking; however, it comes with a small agent fee and is not instant. While it’s more advisable to book through the official 12306 app, the convenience of having a single platform for both hotel and railway bookings can be appealing for some.

Online Shopping

For fulfilling your shopping needs in China, Taobao (淘宝) and Jingdong (京东) are the biggest players in the market. Comparing them to or eBay barely scratches the surface of their offerings. Imagine a shopping experience amplified many times over, with the ability to purchase virtually anything and having it delivered to your doorstep – sometimes within the hour.

You can handle your household shopping on these apps, accessing extremely affordable prices and swift delivery. From sashimi and phone repair parts to obscure objects and specific software, these platforms have it all. Taobao (淘宝), which accepts international credit card payments, is not only functional for mainland China but also services overseas locations, including Hong Kong and Macau SAR. Often, products on Taobao are significantly cheaper than local Hong Kong stores and far cheaper than Amazon, so why not buy straight from the source?

Food Delivery

When it comes to food delivery, Meituan (美团) and Alibaba’s e le me (饿了么) take the lead. For foreigners visiting China, Meituan might be the better choice since e le me does not currently support international credit card payments and only accepts payments through Alipay, which requires a Chinese bank account. On the other hand, Meituan can accept ApplePay and WeChat payment methods, which support Visa and Mastercard.

These apps provide a remarkable level of convenience, bringing delectable food to your doorstep swiftly. China’s food delivery apps typically have minimal delivery fees, and it’s not uncommon to order a small item like a drink for less than 8 or 9 RMB. With swift delivery times, usually around 20 minutes, and partial refund guarantees if the delivery doesn’t arrive within a specified period, these apps are truly game-changers. Both also offer advance ordering, ideal if you wish to wake up to a cup of coffee at your door before boarding your pre-booked train on 12306.


Whether you’re catching a train, enjoying a Didi ride, or winding down after an exhaustive day in your hotel room in China, you may be seeking some form of entertainment. The good news is, there are plenty of apps to cater to your needs, be it short-form content, books, TV shows, or movies.

For short-form content, China’s version of TikTok, known as Douyin (抖音), reigns supreme. Since the international version of TikTok is inaccessible in China, you’ll need to download this variant. Douyin, much like its western counterpart, curates content based on your preferences, making it a reliable source of entertainment.

When it comes to movies and TV shows, Ai Qi Yi (爱奇艺) and Tencent Videos (腾讯视频) are the go-to apps, akin to China’s versions of Netflix. Given China’s somewhat relaxed stance on copyrights, these apps boast an extensive collection of both western and eastern shows that can be streamed directly on your device. While both free and premium versions are available, the latter offers less ad intrusion and options to download full movies. However, keep in mind that these apps are exclusive to Mainland China.

If you’re keen on diving into discussions and Q&As, the app Zhihu (知乎), comparable to Quora or Reddit, is your best bet. This platform allows users to pose questions, share answers, and vote on comments. Whether you’re after relationship advice, news, or just wanting to learn something new, Zhihu has you covered. For news-specific content, Baidu News (百度新闻) is a worthy option. It quickly adapts to your news interests, ensuring you stay updated and engaged.


Navigating the language barrier in China can be made easier with a few useful apps. One I highly recommend is Pleco, a robust Chinese-English dictionary app that I’ve relied on for almost a decade. While the free version is quite handy, the app shines with its purchasable dictionaries which expand its capabilities, adding features like Cantonese language support, handwriting recognition, and OCR for translating pictures of words.

Two other apps that can assist with basic translation are the Baidu Translate (百度翻译) app and the DeepL Translate app. While Baidu can help with simple translations in a pinch, DeepL, which is based on a large language model, often provides more accurate translations.

Moreover, WeChat incorporates a built-in translator. When reading articles or sending messages, you can simply long press and tap “translate” to see the English version of the text. This nifty feature can significantly enhance your communication experience within the app.


Navigating your way through China can be made considerably easier with the right apps. Here, we summarize these apps in a user-friendly list with brief descriptions to assist you with a quick and convenient download process:

  1. 大众点评 – A comprehensive platform for food, leisure, travel, and pre-purchase deals.
  2. 美团 – Your go-to app for food, leisure, travel, takeout, food delivery, and pre-purchase deals.
  3. 小红书 – Discover unique experiences, food, leisure, travel, and social media.
  4. 饿了么 – A reliable choice for food delivery.
  5. 百度地图 – Navigate your way through China with ease.
  6. 高的地图 – An alternative navigation app.
  7. 滴滴出行 – Your taxi and private car transport solution.
  8. ChinaRailway12306 – Your portal for transportation and railway tickets.
  9. – Book your hotels and railway tickets reliably.
  10. 淘宝 – Your comprehensive online shopping platform.
  11. 京东 – An alternative online shopping hub.
  12. 抖音 – Enjoy short-form video entertainment.
  13. 腾讯视频 -Indulge in long-form video entertainment.
  14. 爱奇艺 -Another platform for long-form video entertainment.
  15. 知乎 – Engage in Q&A discussions, entertainment, and reading.
  16. 百度新闻 – Keep updated with the latest news.
  17. 百度翻译 – Handy tool for quick translations.
  18. DeepL – Superior translations based on a large language model.
  19. Pleco – Your comprehensive translation and dictionary tool.

With this comprehensive arsenal of apps, you’ll transform into a China travel expert, prepared to traverse the country with ease and efficiency.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *